Child Support 101: Child Support Basics

8/2/2012

Dad and BabyChild Support 101 is a compilation of online documents that explain the child support process and services. It is broken in to four areas: child support basics, administration, enforcement and family centered services.1 Each of those areas is broken into a variety of online documents that detail the process and state involvement in those processes. You may view the full contents of this project by visiting the comprehensive table of contents.

What Is Child Support?

Child support is the financial support paid by parents to support a child or children of whom they do not have full custody. Child support can be entered into voluntarily, by court order or by an administrative agency (the process depends on the state or tribe). The noncustodial parent or obligor—the parent who does not have primary care, custody, or control of the child or children—often has an obligation to the custodial parent or obligee—the parent who has primary care, custody and control of the child or children.

Percent of child supportWho Gets Child Support?

A noncustodial parent or obligor pays child support to a custodial parent or obligee for the care and support of children of a relationship that has been terminated or in cases of out-of-wedlock birth.

In some cases where someone other than the parent has custody, for example a child under state custody in foster care or living with grandparents, the state or grandparent become the obligee and receives child support payments on behalf of the child.

There is limited data on the reliability of child support payments, however, according to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report, child support payments are inconsistent. Of the 6.3 million custodial parents due support in 2011, 43.4 percent received full payment, nearly 30.7 percent received partial payment while another 25.9 percent received no payment at all during the year. This is an improvement from previous years with more custodial parents receiving full or partial payments and a nearly 5 percent decrease in the number of custodial parents receiving no payment at all. By changing the focus of the child support enforcement system to include family centered options, child support payment reliability is expected to increase.

Who Pays Child Support?

A 2012 U.S. Census Bureau Report collected data from May through August 2010 in the Survey of Income and Program Participation. The report found that 4.8 million parents paid $24.4 billion in child support payments for children under 21.

According to the analysis:

  • Overall child support payments averaged $5,150 annually, or $430 per month.
  • About 85 percent of payers were male and 15 percent were female.
  • Male providers paid an average $5,450 annually, or $455 per month.
  • Female providers paid an average $3,500 annually, or $290 per month.
  • About three of every four child support providers had some type of an agreement or court order for support.

The numbers of children that each provider supported varied. 

  • About 60 percent of providers paid support for one child.
  • Thirty percent made payments to support two children.
  • Just 10 percent supported three or more children.

Why Child Support?

Child support serves several important goals.

  • It reduces poverty and financial insecurity among children and custodial parents. 
  • It reduces public spending on welfare by preventing single-parent families from entering the welfare system and helping them leave the system more quickly.
  • Child support collection also positively affects family relationships and increases the involvement of noncustodial parents in children’s lives.

Child support receipt has been shown to reduce the child poverty rate and improve child well-being. In 2008, 625,000 children would have been poor had they not received child support payments. Studies also show that receipt of child support has a positive effect on academic achievement and improves young children’s cognitive development.

State investment in child support reduces other public spending. Child support collections lower the costs associated with welfare, food stamps and Medicaid. This is especially true in states where child support collection rates are highest. Receiving regular, reasonable child support awards can make the difference for families between reliance on the state and self-sufficiency.

Child support also affects families and marriage. Payment of child support can foster better relationships between children and parents and act as a disincentive for divorce.

Payment of child support also leads to increased involvement and influence of noncustodial fathers. Fathers who pay child support are more likely to visit their child, to see their child more frequently, and to affect how their child is raised, regardless of how much support they pay.

GO TO NEXT SECTION: CHILD SUPPORT 101: STATE ADMINISTRATION

Notes:

  1. The family-centered services component is in development.

Contact Us

For more information or to request technical assistance on state or federal child support policies and programs, please send a message to Children & Families staff. As a membership organization serving state legislators and legislative staff, we do not respond to inquiries or provide legal advice related to individual child support or family law cases.

For more information regarding NCSL's child support work, please visit our Child Support Homepage.

Additional Resources